Sexual boundaries for teens blur without role models

THROUGHOUT history, teenagers have always gone on the same journey of figuring out who they are. We all have done it.

Recently in this column, I have been exploring what happens when great power is put into the hands of teenagers in the forms of mobile phones and social media and, in particular, the newly emerged phenomenon of sexting; of broadcasting our sexual identity and sexualised desires.

At a deeper level we have an even more challenging question to ask ourselves, what if this is just a symptom of a greater cause?

There is an idea that says that every new generation of teenagers think they invented sex.

To a certain degree, I believe this is right.

Normal, healthy sexual discovery is not just about how organs function or interact with each other, it is about the social context and the culture in which it finds itself.

While the biology may not change much, everything else has gone through rapid change.

I believe that our sexual identity reaches down into the very core of our being, of who we believe we are and what we believe about ourselves.

So what happens to us when we remove a major part of the equation?

In my work with men and fathers I consistently see a removal of men from their families.

When families break down, because of a perception of mothers being the nurturers, we often see fathers removed from children's lives.

When children grow up without fathers, without good quality men in their lives, it has an impact, and can contribute towards the impact on sexuality.

Imagine being a young girl, growing up in a world where there is no male presence. For many of us, the unknown can then become a source of fear.

Then when puberty hits and these strange yearnings of DNA, striving to replicate itself, draws them to these young men who are this unknown enigma… we have a combination of both attraction to something we want and fear of what that thing is and what it means.

The response can be to try and control it.

It is here that we start to see sex as a means of control, sex being used to express significance, sex being used to fulfil some deeper emotional need not through embracing its intangible mysteries, but by trying to effectively control it.

It is here that a line seems to be crossed where sexuality becomes more of a tool to gain a sense of esteem, approval, and significance, rather than an act of connective bonding.

Girls can know they can please boys by acting in an overtly sexual manner, so sex can become a tool for control.

Boys too are affected by this.

Growing up a boy when there is an absence of the father and/or healthy male role-models means that they can become confused about who they are.

They can learn to distrust themselves, or even make their masculinity wrong.

Mothers can inadvertently smother their son's natural inclinations towards masculinity if they themselves fear it and want to control it.

Such boys are either very malleable or very defiant, malleable in wanting to please their mother, or defiant if they feel the contempt in something being done to them that is against their instinctual nature. In short, these boys can distrust the maleness in themselves.

So when it comes to sex and sexual identity, these boys again feel the pull of nature's demands, but may become more than willing to submit to the implicit control of their sexual partners.

In this way, boys and men can often confuse their partner with their mother.

What this can means is that sexuality can become this compromised thing which looking for any form of expression will find things like social media and sexting to express itself.

Beyond sex, there is a complex dance of power, control, and identity going on.

One which I believe can be resolved, but this requires the persistent willingness and engagement of good men and women to become healthy role-models.

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